It’s been almost two years since the onset of the largest Ebola outbreak in history. The World Health Organization reports there have been a total of 28,476 confirmed, probable, and suspected cases of the virus in West Africa, with 11,298 deaths to date.
After panic at a global scale, authorities were able to contain the outbreak last year, and although Sierra Leone and Guinea have reported a couple dozen new cases, the nations are on track to becoming Ebola free.
However, just as there’s hope of bringing new cases to zero, Ebola is making a come-back in its own survivors.
Scottish nurse Pauline Cafferkey was admitted to the hospital earlier this October for an "unusual late complication" of Ebola after having recovered from the disease in January. The virus had re-emerged in Cafferkey’s brain and spinal cord. She’s now being treated for meningitis caused by Ebola, and doctors are hopeful she’ll make a full recovery.
Cafferkey isn’t the only case. Back in May, American doctor Ian Crozier, also an Ebola survivor, found himself back at the hospital due to rare complications with his left eye. Upon examination, doctors found Ebola lingering inside his eye – that was over three months after he had been released from the hospital with no trace of the virus in his blood.
Neither Crozier, Cafferkey or other Ebola survivors would be able to transmit the virus through casual contact, but their relapses highlight how little is known about it.
During the past year doctors have learned that Ebola survivors have lingering physical and psychological problems that surface after they’ve been discharged from the hospital. Dr. Crozier says he developed many complications including severe back pain, hearing loss and seizures.
One of the main challenges doctors are facing is how to keep track of the more than 17,000 Ebola survivors in West Africa, many of whom have poor or no access to healthcare.
For now it’s just a waiting game. Doctors are working to develop new vaccines and treatments, while they wait for new manifestations of the virus in order to understand better how it operates.